- 142 wins
- 110 wins
BALTIMORE -- Jason Hammel's eight dominant innings on Friday night briefly masked the Orioles' problems, but -- as evidenced again on Saturday -- the team's offensive struggles are snowballing into an issue the club can no longer hide.
Held to a mere single through six innings, the Orioles' lineup looked listless against Nationals starter Edwin Jackson, with one swing of Adam Jones' bat the only tally in a series-evening 3-1 loss that looked all too-familiar from the home dugout.
A sellout crowd of 46,298 -- the second consecutive night the regional rivals packed the house for the Interleague series at Camden Yards -- watched as Baltimore's slumping bats sunk further into its team-wide funk. After scoring 27 runs in a three-game sweep against the Pirates, the Orioles (40-31) have scored 16 runs in their last eight games, including eight runs over their last six games. The team is batting .163 and is 1-for-27 with runners in scoring position over that six-game stretch.
There is frustration, and the O's hitters -- well aware of their recent numbers -- are pressing at the plate, with a little too much of what manager Buck Showalter calls "want-to," making for a lethal combination against a good arm in Jackson.
"Little overanxious [at the plate], but also some really quality pitches when they've had to make them," Showalter said while describing his team's struggles Saturday night. "It's like they say about command of one pitch to compete, two to win and three to dominate. Jackson had three pitches at his disposal tonight. Makes it a tough proposition to hit, but we've had people do that and we've grinded them out.
"I have a lot of confidence that we'll get back on track with that starting tomorrow. That's the way I look at that. I understand it's part of the game, but it doesn't make it any less frustrating for our players, because we know that we're capable of better."
The Orioles have faced some superb starting pitching while their hitting has gone south, and Jackson continued that trend. Despite not having what Jackson deemed "his best stuff," he was perfect for four innings and toed the rubber in the seventh with a shutout bid still intact before Jones lined a ball into the left-field seats for his team-leading 19th homer.
"Edwin threw a great game," said Jones, who is close with Jackson and exchanged texts with him after the game. "Sometimes you just got to tip your cap to the man. That slider of his, he kept it down, he didn't hang it too much, and he did what he wanted to do."
The Orioles had a chance to get to Jackson in the fifth inning, loading the bases on Ryan Zimmerman's error, Wilson Betemit's single -- which was the team's first hit -- and Nick Johnson's two-out walk. But No. 9 batter Steve Pearce popped up on the second pitch of the at-bat to keep Jackson cruising.
"I mean, normally those are the days you pitch better: when you don't feel the best," said Jackson, who improved to 4-4 with a 2.91 ERA. "You're not trying to overdo it. You're down in the zone and pitching to contact and making them put the ball in play."
Following Jones' homer, Betemit and Mark Reynolds hit back-to-back one-out singles to put runners on first and second and end Jackson's night in favor of former Oriole Michael Gonzalez. The left-hander, who dealt with injuries and underperformance after signing a two-year, $12 million contract with the O's before the 2010 season, was booed loudly upon entering the game, and left the home crowd silent after getting pinch-hitter Ronny Paulino to line into an inning-ending double play.
"It's a long season; a lot of games and a lot of ups and downs," Reyonlds said of the team's recent slide. "We're in a funk right now, but we'll bounce back. We're a good offensive club."
They are going to have to become a better defensive club if the Orioles, 2 1/2 games behind the Yankees in the American League East, are going to continue to keep pace in the division. A second-inning error by Betemit allowed the Nationals to score a pair of runs off starter Wei-Yin Chen, and marked the club's Major League-leading 63rd error this season.
Betemit fielded Xavier Nady's ground ball and fired an errant throw that bounced on the infield grass and hit off Reynolds' glove, allowing Michael Morse and Adam LaRoche to score. LaRoche extended the Nats' lead with a solo homer in the fourth, as Chen turned in his shortest outing since going 4 1/3 innings in Washington on May 20.
"He should have given up, what, one run?" Showalter said of Chen, who was charged with three runs (two earned) on six hits and two walks. "He cracked a nail on [his left index finger on] the comebacker to him, and he probably could have pitched with it, but I'm not going to take any chances. And he was up to around 90 pitches anyway. He pitched well enough to win."
The 26-year-old Chen, speaking through interpreter Tim Lin, said his finger was bleeding after he came in from fielding Jesus Flores' grounder in the fourth inning, and he was lifted after five.
"Obviously, they're a very good team," Chen said of a Nationals club that has produced his two worst starts this season, accounting for two of his three losses. "They have a very good lineup and a really good pitching staff. Today, I didn't pitch good, and I didn't have good control and good command today, and they [all] found out about it right away."
Relievers Darren O'Day, Luis Ayala, Pedro Strop and Troy Patton each tossed a scoreless inning, lowering the bullpen's Major League-leading ERA to 2.33 in the process.
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.